Sudan's ambassador to Egypt is urging the United States not to take sides, but rather act as an impartial mediator in talks to end the African country's civil war. Sudanese rebels and government officials are to begin talks Monday in Switzerland.

The cease-fire talks are being co-sponsored by the United States as part of a diplomatic effort to end 18 years of civil war in Sudan that have claimed as many as two million lives.

Sudan remains on a U.S. list of states accused of sponsoring terrorism. The African nation has become an increasing priority for Washington because Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, lived there from 1991 to 1996.

Sudanese rebels and government officials arrived in Switzerland for talks in a secret location, according to the Swiss Foreign Ministry.

In November, President Bush appointed former-Senator John Danforth as a special envoy to Sudan. Mr. Danforth has proposed a package of confidence building measures including a cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains. He has said U.S. mediation efforts will end unless there are signs both sides are interested in reaching a peaceful settlement.

In Cairo, Sudanese Ambassador to Egypt Ahmad Abdel Halim said the United States should not take sides in the negotiations. "Encourage the two sides to sit down for a negotiated, peaceful, equitable, and fair resolution to the problem and to participate in the rehabilitation of the areas affected by war," he said. "The formula is simple, but the way of politics is sometimes devious."

A spokesman for the Sudan People's Liberation Army, Samson Kwaje, was quoted as saying the talks in Switzerland will concentrate on a regional cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains and not a comprehensive peace.

The rebels have been battling the Islamist government since 1983 for independence in Sudan's mainly Christian south from the Islamic government in the north.